2:00PM Water Cooler 1/3/2024

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Patient readers, I think I’m going to have to do the Water Cooler improvements incrementally, instead of in one fell swoop. Today, I think I improved the section on contacting me (because I know there’s mail from you I just miss in the avalanche of mail that I get). –lambert

Bird Song of the Day

Laughing Dove, Unnamed Road, Pappankulam, Tamil Nadu, IN (8.454, 77.716), Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, India. I wonder if the name of the road is in fact “Unnamed.”

* * *


“So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles

The Constitutional Order


“Section Three’s Chilling Effect on Free Speech” [Justin Burnworth, SSRN]. From the Abtract: “This article sets forth the potential clashes between free speech principles and Section Three. It argues that the principles cannot simply “give away” for every Section Three claim of disqualification. First, the proper way to understand the First Amendment and Section Three is that the former limits the scope of latter. The passage of Section Three did not strip away the free speech principles enshrined in the First Amendment. Second, individual rights guaranteed in the Constitution must take a preferred position to governmental powers when the two clash. If an individual right can be indirectly usurped by a later governmental power, it renders the entire process of protecting rights superfluous…. [A] Section Three claim that an elected official ‘engaged’ in insurrection—through their speech—must first adhere to the Brandenburg standard to determine whether the inflammatory speech was likely to incite imminent lawless action and is therefore not protected under the First Amendment….” And from the text: “While the [two Colorado] cases had different outcomes, they shared one glaring similarity—an incorrect application of Brandenburg v. Ohio. Neither court directly adopted the Baude and Paulsen argument that Section Three should supersede the First Amendment. However, indirectly they subverted the free speech principles protected in Brandenburg by focusing on Trump’s history with extremists and political violence to determine the context of his speech. By utilizing this backward-looking approach, the courts extended and changed the rule in Brandenburg because the Supreme Court has never made such an inquiry in any incitement case.” • Incitement being, forward-looking.

“I Oppose Trump—and Any Efforts to Ban Him From the Ballot” [Bill Barr, The Free Press]. “Obviously, there has to be a fair fact-finding procedure before someone can be branded an insurrectionist. But what should that process be? The Fourteenth Amendment is silent on this. The terms “insurrection” and “engaging” are mushy. When does a public disturbance become an insurrection and when does an individual’s level of involvement amount to “engagement”? What is the standard of proof required? Is it evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, which is what would be required to convict someone for the crime of insurrection, or mere preponderance of the evidence? Does the accused have the right to cross-examine witnesses and to compel witnesses to testify? Does the accused have the right to a jury? Or can a single judge or election official make the final ruling? The key issue is who gets to set these procedural and definitional rules [“ascertainment“]. Is each state free to make up its own rules? Or is it Congress’s job to set up a uniform enforcement mechanism? …. In fact, Congress did decide. It did so the year after Justice Chase’s decision when Congress enacted the Enforcement Act of 1870. That law contained two provisions for the expressed purpose of enforcing Section Three. One provision set up a mechanism by which federal attorneys could bring a civil action to remove from office a person alleged to be disqualified for engaging in insurrection or rebellion. (This provision was repealed in 1948.) The second provision authorized criminal prosecution of someone for knowingly accepting or holding office in violation of Section Three. This provision has evolved [how] into Section 2383 in the current criminal code, which makes it a crime to engage in rebellion or insurrection against the United States and disqualifies anyone who does from holding federal office. ” • Here is Section 2383. (I’ve been muttering about it for some time. Why, one might ask, was Trump not charged under 2383? It’s not like Trump is best buds with Merrick Garland. The most parsimonious explanation is that Trump was not charged with insurrection under Section 2383 because no prosector thought they could win the case. Hence, Democrats started jurisdiction-shopping, got a friendly court to treat hearings as factual evidence, lowered the standards of evidence from “beyond a reasonably doubt,” and make the definition of insurrection ever more capacious. I know I’m strange bedfellows with Bill Barr, but that’s where we are. And if Barr is right, I am wrong in this post to say that Congress never implemented Section Three. In my own defense, no authority I consulted said they did either, so fifty lashes with a wet noodle for lambert.) And here is the Enforcement Act of 1870. Barr refers to Sections Fourteen (“it shall be the duty of the district attorney of the United States for the district in which person shall hold office, as aforesaid, to proceed against such person, by writ of quo warranto”) and Fifteen (“deemed guilty of a misdemeanor”).

UPDATE Baude and Paulsen do in fact mention The Enforcement Act of 1870 on page 102:

Shortly after this—and shortly after Chief Justice Chase’s unsound and unfortunate decision in Griffin’s Case had held that Section Three required congressional legislation in order to be put into operation – Congress enacted federal procedures to directly enforce Section Three in federal court. The 1870 Enforcement Act, also known as the First Ku Klux Klan Act, authorized district attorneys of the United States to bring quo warranto actions to remove officials holding office “contrary to the provisions of the third section of the fourteenth article of amendment of the Constitution” and to bring criminal prosecutions against person who “shall hereafter knowingly accept or hold” office in violation of Section Three.

So, if I have this right, Baude and Paulsen are simultaneously arguing that Section Three is self-executing (hence Section Five is a hood ornament, and Chase, in Griffin, was wrong) and that Section Three was implemented by Congress (as Section Five empowers Congress to do, making it not a hood ornament, and Chase might was well have been right). But if Section Three is was in fact self-executing, why the need for the Enforcement Act of 1870? And why wasn’t Debs prosecuted under it in 1920? Isn’t it both more parsimonious and more respectful of precedent to argue that Chase decided Griffin correctly, that Section Five was functional, and not merely decorative, and that the Enforcement Act of 1870 was the called-for Congressional implementation?

“Trump sues over Maine ballot disqualification” [Courthouse News]. “The former president claims he met all of the requirements necessary to appear on Maine’s primary ballot, per the state’s presidential primary candidate consent form, which was attached to his filing. The form lists three ‘qualifications’ for U.S. president: that they be a natural born citizen, that they be at least 35 years old and that they have been residing in the U.S. for at least 14 years. Those are the only three requirements stated, Trump argues. He claims that since not one qualification ‘identifies, involves, or refers to Section Three of the 14th Amendment,’ Bellows cannot legally remove him from the ballot. Doing so, Trump adds, was above Bellows’ authority anyway. He claims that the 14th Amendment has ‘no role for state officials to play in its enforcement.’ ‘The secretary had no statutory authority to consider any challenge to President Trump’s qualifications,’ Trump says in his petition.” • This might offer the Supreme Court a back door for a national standard?

* * *


“The Trumpian Lost Cause could win the Presidency again and come back into power unless we use the terror of our laws to prevent it”:

Yale’s Professor Blight taught “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877” at Yale (here as a podcast, well worth a listen.) I understand what Blight is saying. I think he’s blind to the centripetal, anti-Union pull on the Democrat side, unfortunately.

“‘A Sad Day’: How the Colorado Disqualification Case is Bringing Back Bad Memories for the Supreme Court” [Jonathan Turley]. “Now, the Supreme Court is being pulled into another election vortex [like Bush v. Gore] by the Colorado decision and, potentially, by some of the cases in at least 15 other states. (Appeals of ballot decisions are pending in Arizona; ballot challenges are in process in Alaska, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming. A Wisconsin challenge has been denied twice.)… The Court is not an institution eager for this role. The ruling in Bush v. Gore produced one of the greatest institutional crises in the Court’s history, and the impact reverberated for decades. …. [T]he case raises the same institutional challenges as Bush v. Gore. Back in 2000, the Court fractured and left a bitter legacy for both the justices and the public. Faced with another controversial 4-3 decision by a state supreme court during a presidential election, Roberts will need to seek more than just a final decision. He will likely push hard for a unanimous decision, to have the Court speak in one voice to avoid the bitter fracturing of 2000.” • Roberts, Kavanaugh, and Barrett all did legal work for the Republican side in Florida 2000, after which the Court selected Bush as Presdient in Bush v. Gore, where Thomas was in the majority (the only justice remaining from that time).

“Should Trump be banned from ballot in North Carolina? State courts could soon decide” [WRAL]. “Friday’s appeal argues that it’s unfair to GOP voters in North Carolina to allow Trump to take part in the primary. Specifically, it says, Trump supporters will have been deprived of their right to back a different candidate who’s actually eligible to serve as president. ‘The voters in the Republican primary on March 5, 2024, have a right to choose from constitutionally eligible candidates,’ the legal filing says. ‘If one were to vote for Donald Trump, and he is not eligible to hold the office of president, their vote will not count. Their vote will be a wasted vote, will not play a part in the selection of the next president, and such a result in constitutionally unacceptable.’… [The appea was] filed by Brian Martin, a Stokes County retiree who previously served as a top lawyer in the administrations of Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush…. Martin told WRAL in an interview following the Board of Elections decision earlier this month that he believed it’s nonsensical for the state’s top elections officials to claim it they have no power to stop a political party from nominating anyone for president, regardless of whether they’re legally qualified. ‘I thought it was remarkable that they determined the Republican Party can list any candidate for president of the United States, and the board has no authority to determine if they’re qualified for office,’ he said at the time. ‘So essentially a party could nominate a 21-year-old, or a foreign national, and there’s nothing they can do?'” •

“It’s Time to Start Taking the 14th Amendment Very Seriously” [Charles Piece, Esquire]. Quoting Timothy Snyder: “[W]e have to recall how constitutional regimes have been defeated in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. How does the rule of law become something else? First comes the acceptance that one person is not subject to the rule of law, for whatever bad reason — that he was in office; that he has violent supporters; that he is charismatic; that we are cowards. Once that move is made, once that hole is opened, the person so sanctified as a Leader has been empowered to change the regime itself, and will predictably try to do so.” • A lot of projection going on here, it seems to me. As far as “changing the regime,” this is an interesting example I should look into–

“After Section 3 Comes Section 2” [The American Prospect]. “About a year ago, I reported in the Prospect on a pending lawsuit filed on behalf of a citizens group by former Department of Justice lawyer Jared Pettinato. The suit asks that the Census Bureau be required to enforce Section 2 of the 14th Amendment, enacted in 1868 to strip congressional representation from states that disfranchise voters. The text applies to general methods states adopt that keep people from voting and is not limited to racial discrimination. The proportional loss of congressional representation would also reduce the votes that states would get in the Electoral College.” Well, that’s interesting. More: “It’s amazing that, given the central role courts construing constitutional texts play in our public life, the terms of operationalizing the 135 words of Section 2 have never been settled in over 150 years.” • It’s not amazing at all. Section Three wasn’t operationalized either. Oddly, the Prospect doesn’t cite the case. Readers?


Less than a year to go!

* * *

“Republican 2024 Field Down to Just Trump, Haley, and DeSantis” [Ed Kilgore, New York Magazine]. “Barring some totally unprecedented development, Trump is going to win the Iowa caucuses on January 15 (his lead in the RCP averages there is currently 32.7 percent). The big question is whether DeSantis can keep his campaign temporarily alive by finishing second after focusing all his resources on Iowa or if he will instead give way to Haley, who has a remote but distinct path to viability in New Hampshire and then in her home state of South Carolina. That makes the head-to-head debate between these two survivors on January 10 at Drake University in Des Moines a genuinely interesting and significant encounter. It will offer DeSantis one final chance to deploy his more-conservative-than-anyone message in hopes of peeling off Trump loyalists while depicting Haley as too RINO-ish for a GOP defined by the MAGA movement, even as Haley seeks to consolidate anti-Trump voters and advertise her allegedly superior electability to Republicans starved for power. Trump, of course, will skip the debate and, in fact, hold a town-hall event in Des Moines sponsored by Fox News on the same evening.” • Say what you will about Trump, he has stature. Neither Haley nor DeSantis do.

“Trump, who lives for drama, has created the dullest of nomination fights” [Politico]. Thank heavens something is dull. “Trump, who has skipped four GOP debates and largely forgone barnstorming early nominating states, hasn’t taken the primary lightly. His team has worked for endorsements, leaned on state parties and put in place a more sophisticated delegate operation…. ‘He’s run a much more disciplined and focused campaign than the other two times, and though it’s a low bar, quite honestly, who the hell cares?’ said Dave Carney, the veteran New Hampshire-based GOP strategist. ‘He has a great organization that’s finally getting noticed. Sometimes, it’s not playing prevent defense, but being smart with your candidates’ resources. I don’t think anybody on New Year’s weekend in Iowa cared much about anything other than Michigan losing [in the College Football Playoffs]. He doesn’t need to do that. He’s not behind.'” • If Trump’s legal team were half as good as his political team, he wouldn’t be in trouble at all. OTOH, maybe he wants to head for the Supreme Court (that being his team, or at least the team he put together). I dunno. Anyhow, it’s this sort of article that ought to put to rest the notion that Trump is a madman or a fool. But that never happens. I suppose “disciplined and focused” campaigners don’t appear in people’s dreams

* * *

“Who would lend millions to Hunter Biden? Meet the Hollywood lawyer who has” [Los Angeles Times]. Hey, who wouldn’t? Kevin Morris did. A couple of odd details. Morris was in the SUV that took Hunter to the Capitol steps when he recently defied that House subpoena for his testimony. At the same event: “Nestled among the news reporters was another camera crew. But it had a different mission. For years, it had been following Biden and filming his travails for a documentary that Morris has backed. The strategy isn’t a novel one. A documentary would allow Biden the person — a father, husband and spouse — to be presented without a middleman: painting, selling his art, raising his son and navigating everyday life as a sober adult with ongoing criminal investigations and in the crosshairs of Trump and his supporters. With a documentary, Biden, and to some extent Morris, could possibly get the last word.” • Makes you wonder if the House committee would like to talk to Morris. And get a look at his film.

* * *

“RFK Jr. Qualifies for His First Ballot in Utah” [The Messenger]. “Presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has qualified for the ballot in Utah, election officials said, marking the first state ballot he will appear. The longshot independent presidential candidate collected over 1,000 signatures in the state to appear on the ballot. The update comes after Republican Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson agreed to extend the state’s signature deadline from Jan. 8 to March 5. Kennedy’s campaign had previously sued the state, arguing that its deadline was unconstitutionally restrictive.” • Can’t find any word on Cornel West, who also hopes to appear on the Utah ballot.

“Robert F. Kennedy Fundraiser to Be Headlined by Italian Opera Singer Andrea Bocelli, Mike Tyson” [The Messenger]. Great headline. “[RFK Jr. SuperPAC] American Values confirmed the Bocelli performance, first reported by the Daily Mail. Other celebrity names like Martin Sheen, Mike Tyson, and Dionne Warwick will also be in attendance at the Jan. 22 event, which doubles as a 70th birthday celebration for Kennedy Jr.”

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IL: “Deep-pocketed, self-funding candidates and dark money mar Illinois politics” [Chicago Sun-Times]. “Pritzker’s $24 million contribution to the Democratic Governors’ Association led to a hefty ad buy that painted Republican primary candidate Darren Bailey as “too conservative for Illinois” — a crafty strategy aimed at actually fortifying Bailey’s standing among conservative Republicans. It ultimately boosted Bailey’s candidacy over former Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, a moderate whose candidacy was backed by millions from billionaire Ken Griffin. The strategy worked. The more “extreme” a candidate is, the easier to defeat, Pritzker’s camp correctly predicted. But with the millions spent to boost Bailey, the Democratic governor — who has staunchly spoken out about the dangers former President Donald Trump posed to democracy — elevated a MAGA candidate who has repeatedly pushed a narrative that election fraud is rampant. The tactic was used successfully by Democrats in eight of 15 Republican primaries last year, according to a Washington Post analysis. And it’s certainly not new.” • Eight of 15. So, the “Pied Piper” strategy, much beloved by Democrats — especially after they elected Trump using it — works a little bit better than a coin toss?

IL: “Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of Harvard Corporation, faces scrutiny after Claudine Gay’s resignation as president” [Boston Globe]. The deck: “Harvard alum led the committee that selected Claudine Gay as the university’s president.” More: “Penny Pritzker, 64, is a former US commerce secretary and philanthropist from Chicago and an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune. Her brother, J.B. Pritzker, is the governor of Illinois. Pritzker graduated from Harvard in 1981 with a bachelor of arts degree in economics and has worked in real estate, hospitality, and financial services. She was an early and prominent financial backer of Barack Obama’s candidacy for president and later served as US commerce secretary in his administration from 2013 to 2017.”

Democrats en Déshabillé

Patient readers, it seems that people are actually reading the back-dated post! But I have not updated it, and there are many updates. So I will have to do that. –lambert

I have moved my standing remarks on the Democrat Party (“the Democrat Party is a rotting corpse that can’t bury itself”) to a separate, back-dated post, to which I will periodically add material, summarizing the addition here in a “live” Water Cooler. (Hopefully, some Bourdieu.) It turns out that defining the Democrat Party is, in fact, a hard problem. I do think the paragraph that follows is on point all the way back to 2016, if not before:

d>. (“PMC” modulo “class expatriates,” of course.) Second, all the working parts of the Party reinforce each other. Leave aside characterizing the relationships between elements of the Party (ka-ching, but not entirely) those elements comprise a network — a Flex Net? An iron octagon? — of funders, vendors, apparatchiks, electeds, NGOs, and miscellaneous mercenaries, with assets in the press and the intelligence community.

Note, of course, that the class power of the PMC both expresses and is limited by other classes; oligarchs and American gentry (see ‘industrial model’ of Ferguson, Jorgensen, and Jie) and the working class spring to mind. Suck up, kick down.

Realignment and Legitimacy

“Large numbers of Americans want a strong, rough, anti-democratic leader” [The Conversation]. “As scholars interested in how committed citizens are to democracy, we wanted to measure whether regular Americans want someone who will abide by democratic traditions and practices or dispense with them. Using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 respondents, we found that a large proportion of Americans are willing to support leaders who would violate democratic principles.” • Handy chart:

I dunno. Tough in the same ways? Cracking down on the same deviants?

“Public Christian schools? Leonard Leo’s allies advance a new cause” [Politico]. “Groups aligned with the conservative legal movement and its financial architect, Leonard Leo, are working to promote a publicly funded Christian school in Oklahoma, hoping to create a test case to change the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. At issue is the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma’s push to create the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, which would be the nation’s first religious school entirely funded by taxpayers. The school received preliminary approval from the state’s charter school board in June. If it survives legal challenges, it would open the door for state legislatures across the country to direct taxpayer funding to the creation of Christian or other sectarian schools.” • Ugh.


“I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.” –William Lloyd Garrison

Resources, United States (National): Transmission (CDC); Wastewater (CDC, Biobot; includes many counties; Wastewater Scan, includes drilldown by zip); Variants (CDC; Walgreens); “Iowa COVID-19 Tracker” (in IA, but national data). “Infection Control, Emergency Management, Safety, and General Thoughts” (especially on hospitalization by city).

Lambert here: Readers, thanks for the collective effort. To update any entry, do feel free to contact me at the address given with the plants. Please put “COVID” in the subject line. Thank you!

Resources, United States (Local): AK (dashboard); AL (dashboard); AR (dashboard); AZ (dashboard); CA (dashboard; Marin, dashboard; Stanford, wastewater; Oakland, wastewater); CO (dashboard; wastewater); CT (dashboard); DE (dashboard); FL (wastewater); GA (wastewater); HI (dashboard); IA (wastewater reports); ID (dashboard, Boise; dashboard, wastewater, Central Idaho; wastewater, Coeur d’Alene; dashboard, Spokane County); IL (wastewater); IN (dashboard); KS (dashboard; wastewater, Lawrence); KY (dashboard, Louisville); LA (dashboard); MA (wastewater); MD (dashboard); ME (dashboard); MI (wastewater; wastewater); MN (dashboard); MO (wastewater); MS (dashboard); MT (dashboard); NC (dashboard); ND (dashboard; wastewater); NE (dashboard); NH (wastewater); NJ (dashboard); NM (dashboard); NV (dashboard; wastewater, Southern NV); NY (dashboard); OH (dashboard); OK (dashboard); OR (dashboard); PA (dashboard); RI (dashboard); SC (dashboard); SD (dashboard); TN (dashboard); TX (dashboard); UT (wastewater); VA (dashboard); VT (dashboard); WA (dashboard; dashboard); WI (wastewater); WV (wastewater); WY (wastewater).

Resources, Canada (National): Wastewater (Government of Canada).

Resources, Canada (Provincial): ON (wastewater); QC (les eaux usées); BC (wastewater); BC, Vancouver (wastewater).

Hat tips to helpful readers: Alexis, anon (2), Art_DogCT, B24S, CanCyn, ChiGal, Chuck L, Festoonic, FM, FreeMarketApologist (4), Gumbo, hop2it, JB, JEHR, JF, JL Joe, John, JM (10), JustAnotherVolunteer, JW, KatieBird, LL, Michael King, KF, LaRuse, mrsyk, MT, MT_Wild, otisyves, Petal (6), RK (2), RL, RM, Rod, square coats (11), tennesseewaltzer, Tom B., Utah, Bob White (3).

Stay safe out there!

* * *


Chris Cuomo has Long Covid. Perhaps that is turning the tide in the media?

Stop living in fear:

“Relative Efficacy of Masks and Respirators as Source Control for Viral Aerosol Shedding from People Infected with SARS-CoV-2: A Human Controlled Trial” [The Lancet]. From the Abstract”: “We compared efficacy of masks (cloth and surgical) and respirators (KN95 and N95) as source control for SARS-CoV-2 viral load in exhaled breath of volunteers with COVID-19. Volunteers provided paired unmasked and masked breath samples allowing computation of source-control factors. Findings: All masks and respirators significantly reduced exhaled viral load, without fit tests or training. A duckbill N95 reduced exhaled viral load by 98% (95% CI: 97% to 99%), and significantly outperformed a KN95 (p<0·001) as well as cloth and surgical masks. Cloth masks outperformed a surgical mask (p=0·012) and the tested KN95 (p=0·028). Interpretation: These results suggest that N95 respirators could be the standard of care in nursing homes and healthcare settings when respiratory viral infections are prevalent in the community and healthcare-associated transmission risk is elevated." • I can't believe these guys think CDC "community" levels are appropriate. They lag! The standrard of care should be N95s continuously and universally.

Censorship and Propaganda

This really demands a lawsuit:

Denial and Cope

‘Tis a mystery!

Mom’s groups exert a lot of power of their members. Are they all like this? Readers?

This is wildly speculative, but we desperately need an account of what seems to be society-wide destructive behavior, both to self and others, following Covid infection (as shown by, sigh, anecdote, but there are rather a lot of them. We have, I believe, filed such under “loss of executive function”). We need to start somewhere, and it might as well be here. I hope the type isn’t too small; here is the entire thread.

(NT = neurotypical; ND = neurodivergent.) Pragmatically, a “host manipulation” narrative (not science, narrative) might be a conscience-salving/blame-removal persuasion technique, perhaps more appropriate than moralizing (which I freely admit I engage in, since people recklessly infecting others seems to me to be completely beyond the pale. But not everybody thinks that way. So my moralizing hasn’t been much use, has it?)


“Inhibitory Effect of Ophthalmic Solutions against SARS-CoV-2: A Preventive Action to Block the Viral Transmission?” (PDF) [Microorganisms]. 2021, still germane. From the Abstract: “It has also been demonstrated that the ocular surface can constitute a transmission route, especially in hospital settings, where health care workers can become a dangerous source of infection. In order to increase prevention and reduce the spread of the virus on the ocular surface, the antiviral activity of already-marketed eye drops against SARS-CoV-2 was evaluated. Iodim, Ozodrop, Septavis, and Dropsept were tested against SARS-CoV-2 in plaque-assay experiments at different stimulation times. Furthermore, the expression levels of early and late genes were evaluated through molecular assays. Results indicated that three of the four ophthalmic solutions showed a considerable dose-dependent inhibition of viral replication, highlighting their use as potential antiviral drugs against SARS-CoV-2 and preventing other ocular infections.” • No reason not to add another layer of defense. Not sure this is the best study, but it’s the one I found (and I worry a bit that promising lines of search in 2020 – 2021 were cut off).

“Something Awful”

Lambert here: I’m getting the feeling that the “Something Awful” might be a sawtooth pattern — variant after variant — that averages out to a permanently high plateau. Lots of exceptionally nasty sequelae, most likely deriving from immune dysregulation (says this layperson). To which we might add brain damage, including personality changes therefrom.

* * *

Origins Debate

“Italian study finds SARS-CoV-2 in clinical samples collected before December 2019” [News Medical Life Sciences]. From 2022, still germane. “Several studies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating in many nations prior to its official detection. In fact, SARS-CoV-2 ribonucleic acid (RNA) has been detected in wastewater samples obtained in Brazil and Northern Italy in 2019…. Of the 11 pre-pandemic samples that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, nine were collected in 2019. The earliest SARS-CoV-2-positive urine sample was collected on September 12, 2019, from an eight-month-old child who also had detectable serum levels of SARS-CoV-2 IgG and IgM. None of the SARS-CoV-2-positive samples were positive when the Real-Time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic protocol was used. This indicates that all samples exhibited low viral loads that were less than the detection threshold level.” • Interesting. The article also mentions a contemporaneous uptick in measles/rubella.

Elite Maleficence

This whole conversation is worth clicking into the images for:

“The change should come from our leaders.”

Another leadership failure:

A failure that must be recognized and rejected with great force:

* * *

Case Data

NOT UPDATED From BioBot wastewater data, December 23:

Lambert here: Still going up. As a totally “gut feel” tapewatcher, I would expect this peak to meet or exceed the two previous Biden peaks; after all, we haven’t really begun the next bout of holiday travel, or the next rounds of superspreading events celebrations. Plus students haven’t come from from school, and then returned. So a higher peak seems pretty much “baked in.” And that’s before we get to new variants, like JN.1. The real thing to watch is the slope of the curve. If it starts to go vertical, and if it keeps on doing so, then hold onto your hats.

Regional data:

Regional split continues.

• FFS:

Verily and CDC are also not updated. So here we are in the midst of a peak, and no data. What a public health debacle.


NOT UPDATED From CDC, December 23:

Lambert here: JN.1 now dominates. That was fast.

From CDC, December 9:

Lambert here: I sure hope the volunteers doing Pangolin, on which this chart depends, don’t all move on the green fields and pastures new (or have their access to facilities cut by administrators of ill intent).

CDC: “As of May 11, genomic surveillance data will be reported biweekly, based on the availability of positive test specimens.” “Biweeekly: 1. occurring every two weeks. 2. occurring twice a week; semiweekly.” Looks like CDC has chosen sense #1. In essence, they’re telling us variants are nothing to worry about. Time will tell.

Covid Emergency Room Visits

From CDC NCIRD Surveillance, December 30:

Lambert: Return to upward movement. Only a week’s lag, so this may be our best current nationwide, current indicator.

NOTE “Charts and data provided by CDC, updates Wednesday by 8am. For the past year, using a rolling 52-week period.” So not the entire pandemic, FFS (the implicit message here being that Covid is “just like the flu,” which is why the seasonal “rolling 52-week period” is appropriate for bothMR SUBLIMINAL I hate these people so much. Notice also that this chart shows, at least for its time period, that Covid is not seasonal, even though CDC is trying to get us to believe that it is, presumably so they can piggyback on the existing institutional apparatus for injections. And of course, we’re not even getting into the quality of the wastewater sites that we have as a proxy for Covid infection overall.


NOT UPDATED Bellwether New York City, data as of December 29:

Lambert here: I still don’t like the slope of that curve, and notice we’re approaching previous peak levels (granted, not 2020 or 2022, but respectable).

NOT UPDATED Here’s a different CDC visualization on hospitalization, nationwide, not by state, but with a date, at least. December 23:

Moving ahead briskly!

Lambert here: “Maps, charts, and data provided by CDC, updates weekly for the previous MMWR week (Sunday-Saturday) on Thursdays (Deaths, Emergency Department Visits, Test Positivity) and weekly the following Mondays (Hospitalizations) by 8 pm ET†”. So where the heck is the update, CDC?


Lambert here: Notice that for both Walgreens and the Cleveland Clinic, that although the percentage of positives is stable, the absolute numbers have greatly increased; Walgreen’s doubled. This speaks well of people; they’re getting tested before the holidays (and in face of a shit*tstorm barrage of propaganda and peer pressure to minimize, too).

From Walgreens, January 2:

1.1%. Up. (It would be interesting to survey this population generally; these are people who, despite a tsunami of official propaganda and enormous peer pressure, went and got tested anyhow.)

NOT UPDATED From Cleveland Clinic, December 30:

Lambert here: Percentage plateaued. Absolute numbers steadily increasing.

NOT UPDATED From CDC, traveler’s data, December 11:

Turning down.

Down, albeit in the rear view mirror. And here are the variants for travelers, December 4:

BA.2.86 back up, totally dominant. This would be a great early warning system, if the warning were in fact early, instead of weeks late, good job, CDC.


Here is the New York Times, based on CDC data, December 23:

Stats Watch

Manufacturing: “United States ISM Purchasing Managers Index (PMI)” [Trading Economics]. “The ISM Manufacturing PMI in the US improved slightly to 47.4 in December 2023 from 46.7 in November, and better than market forecasts of 47.1. Still, the reading pointed to the 14th month of contraction in factory activity, prolonging the most extended period of declining activity since 2000-2001.”

* * *

Today’s Fear & Greed Index: 75 Extreme Greed (previous close: 75 Extreme Greed) [CNN]. One week ago: 76 (Greed). (0 is Extreme Fear; 100 is Extreme Greed). Last updated Jan 3 at 1:24:16 PM ET.

Zeitgeist Watch

“REVIEW: The Need to Be Whole” [Current Affairs]. Wendell Berry: “We need a new respect for propriety of scale and the law of return, both of which are essential, and they are closely related. Sir Albert Howard understood what he called ‘The Law of Return’ as one of nature’s fundamental laws. It requires that whatever nutrients and organic materials are taken from the land must be returned. This probably is the fundamental law of sustainability, and it depends on getting the scale right, which usually means fairly small scale.'” • I learned the slogan “Let no organic matter leave the property” from permaculture, but had not idea it was parallel to (or derived from) Berry.

L’Affaire Joffrey Epstein

“Who Are the Newly Revealed Jeffrey Epstein Associates?” [New York Magazine]. “Below, a look at the new names contained in the various reports and how they have been linked to Epstein, as well as additional developments in the mysterious saga.” • The usual suspects. Useful because it integrates these revelations with all the previous ones. The interesting question, to me, is how anyone at the elite level — say, anyone with staff — could possibly meet with Epstein without knowing who and what he was. Unless what Epstein was is unremarkable among the lizard people in elite circles.

Class Warfare

“Starbucks union fight is grinding down the company — and workers at local cafes” [Boston Globe]. “Three months ago, baristas at a Starbucks in Beverly narrowly voted to unionize, hoping for better wages, working conditions, and benefits. Now only four of the 14 employees who cast votes in that election remain at the cafe, said barista Rob Stevens — a high turnover rate that threatens the union’s momentum as Starbucks pushes back. Many baristas left, after what Stevens said were petty retaliations by managers, such as dinging them over dress clothes prohibitions, or scheduling them for either too few or too many hours. (Starbucks denies those allegations.) He intends to hang on, but it’s getting lonely. ‘I’ll be a thorn in their side until I die,’ he said. ‘But I’m just scared that it’ll be left to me.’ His is a fairly common sentiment among veteran baristas at newly unionized Starbucks locations across the region, as the fight to organize the Seattle coffee giant enters its third year. Starbucks remains one of the biggest-name battlegrounds in the wave of union activity that has swept the country since the COVID pandemic, with an estimated 9,000 workers at nearly 380 stores nationwide, and around 20 in New England, voting to join Starbucks Workers United. But only a few of these locals have sat down with the company to even begin negotiations. (Starbucks has around 15,000 retail locations in the United States.) In a high-turnover industry, such delays can quickly sap enthusiasm, threatening to bring the union campaign that came to define the resurgence of American labor to a standstill.”

“Paying workers like it’s 2009” [Popular Information]. “Even in 2009, $7.25 was not a lot of money. But in 2024, paying someone $7.25 for an hour of labor is deeply exploitative. A full-time employee working 52 weeks per year will earn just $15,080, well below the poverty line for a family of any size. The real value of the minimum wage is 40% lower than it was in 1970. This is the longest period without an increase since the federal minimum wage was established in 1938. If the minimum wage had kept pace with worker productivity gains since 1968 — when the value of the minimum wage peaked — it would have reached $23 per hour by 2021.

News of the Wired

“Are Humans Still Evolving? ‘Maybe More Rapidly Than Ever,’ Says Scientist” [Newsweek]. “‘It is my belief that cultural variation with respect to things like preference for large families or small families will drive much of the evolution of humans in the near future. Lots of the evolution we see on a species-wide scale will be driven by demographic differences among populations that happen to correlate with differences in gene frequencies among those populations [uh, classes]. Genes that are common in populations [erm, classes] that are expanding will increase in frequency, and genes that are common in populations that are contracting will decrease in frequency,’ [Jason Hodgson, an anthropologist and evolutionary geneticist at Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom] said.” • So, portions of the population highly adapted to capitalism, for good or ill? Not sure how, or if, that would collide with the Jackpot. My guess is that capitalist adaptation will ultimately prove maladaptive.

* * *

From TH:

TH writes: “Is any part of this flower in focus? I think not, but like it anyway.” I don’t think so either, but it’s a lovely composition!

• Kind readers, I still am not comfortable that I have enough plants in the queue. Snow-covered trees! Icy flowers! The fall harvest! Autumn leaves! Last year’s wildflowers! Also, of course, honorary plants like fungi and lichen! Algae!

* * *

Contact information for lambert: Readers, feel free to contact me at lambert [UNDERSCORE] strether [DOT] corrente [AT] yahoo [DOT] com. To help me sort the avalanche of mail and to make sure I don’t miss any of your communications, please put (where relevant) one of the following as the first word of your subject line (of course you can write other words, following the first):

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. ron paul rEVOLution

    Mass General Brigham cheerfully informing me that I don’t need to wear a mask at all to go to their facility, but if I do choose to wear an N95, I have to compromise the fit by putting one of theirs over it so that they know it’s safe and effective. Okay, great. What the [family blog]?

  2. Feral Finster

    I find it rich that Bill Barr, who was Trump’s own Attorney General, opposes Trump.

    Trump promised us “Only the best people!” Apparently the first term was just for practice.

      1. Lone_Geek

        Barr is positioning himself as the “reasonable Republican” to be hired as a talking head on the MSM when Trump wins.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Barr is a Republican establishment fixer. He was never one of Trump’s people. His role was to preside over a “mistakes were made” investigation and make sure nobody was ever actually held accountable for abusing governmental powers in going after the Donald.

  3. bobert

    I recently watched a Scott Ritter video on YouTube in which he argued that the “Samson” option that Israel threatens to wield has a hitch: Pakistan. According to Ritter, Pakistan has been talking about sending nukes to Turkey. Erdogan wants to be the leader of the Muslim world and would love to be able to threaten Israel with nukes in turn. I’m curious to see what the commentariat thinks if anyone cares to comment. I’m sorry but I couldn’t find the video to link.

    1. Feral Finster

      If Erdogan were serious about curbing Israel, he doesn’t need nukes. The Turkish (Turkiyeish?) flotilla would have done just as well.

      The flotilla idea appears to have stalled.

      1. Lefty Godot

        Isn’t he piping oil down to them too? Just cutting that off might cause an attitude adjustment in Tel Aviv.

    2. NYMutza

      One can be sure that Israel and the United States have neutralized Erdogan. He won’t be posing a problem for Israel. His blather is of no consequence. Not that dissimilar to Putin and Xi.

  4. flora

    The blob hates the idea of a second T presidency. I can’t figure out why they are so discomblobulated. (pun intended)
    In office T: moved the US-Isr embassy to Jerusalem (Isr loved it), gave more tax cuts to the wealth (they loved it), gave the military more money than they asked for (they loved it), kept inflation low (we loved it).

    He also closed at least part of the US-Mexican border slowing the flow of cheap powerless labor into the US, and he failed to start new wars.

    Follow the money, I guess.

    1. Carolinian

      If by Blob you mean govt bureaucrats Trump is threatening to fire a lot of them. That might be a reason. If it means press then a poll just out says the MSM is about 4 percent declared Repub, 36 percent declared Dem.

      Plus Trump said he would negotiate peace in Ukraine and I don’t think he would put up with Gaza either because it would make him, Trump, look bad. And for Trump that’s what matters. Biden doesn’t care what the public thinks, just his peer group.

      I don’t think when Obama said Blob he meant Wall st or rich people in general. All the ones I know (not many) watch Fox.

      The Blob likes craven so if Biden goes down they’ll take Haley as an alternative. Haley may have done herself in with that slavery answer though.

      1. flora

        Your comment about people holding on to their jobs makes as much sense as anything I’ve read. Thanks.

      2. ChiGal

        from Politico: The Blob is composed of both Democrats and Republicans — a disparate group of elite think-tankers, lawmakers, journalists and others in official Washington — who coalesce around a hawkish foreign policy, championing the old-time gospel of American leadership on the world stage.

        1. jsn

          And everything in the US that looks like a problem to you and me looks like a profit center to some oligarch.

          Every “positive” in Flora’s comment was an ox pulling some wagon of profit for some congress of kleptocrats somewhere that Trump gored.

          The oligarchy likes its factotum’s bought, and to stay bought. Trump decides for himself whose bribes he’ll honor and who’s he’ll betray. It’s rank insubordination, intolerable! And when an oligarch is peeved our press finds its framing there.

          So, yes, follow the money, but look for who didn’t get what they paid for and who is ideologically committed to some profitable cause he opposed.

    2. undercurrent

      Yeah, but didn’t Trump start the U.S. Space Force? You know it’s better to fight (real) aliens way over there, out beyond the Oort Cloud, than to fight them here. BTW, maybe Trump could just buy the Oort Cloud from Denmark. Doesn’t hurt to ask, or to bluster.

    3. Feral Finster

      Because Americans puppets, satraps, vassals and lackeys would be less willing to blindly obey American orders if Trump were in charge.

      In 2008, someone in the CIA pointed out that our european puppets might balk at America’s endless wars if a Dubya or a McCain were in charge, but that Obama made political class europeans swoon and they would do anything not to undermine him.

    4. SocalJimObjects

      Kept inflation low? He introduced tariffs and contrary to popular perception, it’s not Chinese companies paying the money, it’s US customers. You can’t quite compare inflation then and now because the lockdown had a severe impact on supply lines. Also the measures introduced during the lockdown has had an impact on inflation from the whole PPT fraud, the suspension of rent and student debts etc, plus extra money for people who were still gainfully employed.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Israel really, and I mean really, wants to drag in Iran to this war so that they can call on the US to fight them on their behalf. If Biden wasn’t the person that he is, he should pull all US Navy ships out of the entire region to show the Israelis that they are on their own here.

      1. NYMutza

        I think you have things a bit backwards. it is the US that is using Israel as a proxy to drag Iran into war.

        1. flora

          You suggest the US neocons would pull down the temple on Irs’s head to achieve their goal of destroying Irs’s enemies. The tragic irony of that possibility is beyond description. / my 2 cents

          1. hk

            I don’t think the temple is just falling over Israel’s head. Maybe the neocons think that, but the temple is creaking over everyone else’s (including our) head, too.

  5. Terry Flynn

    In 25 years of discrete choice modelling I have never seen a more perfect set of data than the “tough leaders” graph illustrating a phenomenon widely posited amongst our field: that those who self-identify as “firmly holding a belief” show the most skewed distribution of responses.

    Notice that the distribution across the 4 response categories is noticeably closer to 25:25:25:25 % the closer to the middle you get. In discrete choice modelling we see this whenever a group is cognitively impaired or is genuinely unsure. This “lack of sureness” is neither “good” nor “bad” – it can be bad if you are very old (known cognitive slowdown) but can be OK if you genuinely think about things rather than respond “instinctively” (think “not amenable to dog whistle politics”).

    TL;DR: That graph can just as easily be interpreted as “strong Repubs and Dems don’t think about stuff and the trade-offs but just follow orders”. It’s how means and variances work on a latent scale of (in this instance) “degree of tolerance for dictatorship over argument” according to Yatchew, A. and Griliches Z.. 1985. “Specification Error in Probit Models.” Review of Economics and Statistics 67 (1): 134–9

    1. lambert strether

      > those who self-identify as “firmly holding a belief” show the most skewed distribution of responses

      Thanks, that’s very interesting. For what populations is that true?

  6. SteveD

    Water Cooler continues to provide (and this is nothing else is even close) comprehensive Section Three coverage. Bravo Lambert! I’m certain 2024 will surprise, but at this juncture Section Three will be one of the “big” stories of the year.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      [lambert blushes modestly]

      Presumably, the story will go away soon, assuming the Supreme Court decides rapidly. But to me the legal issues are fascinating.

      1. fjallstrom

        I’ll add my thanks!

        So to sum up as I understand it, Chase in 1869 told Congress they needed to legislate an actual process, Congress did so in 1870 and after modifications what remains is if you get convicted of insurrection you are barred. Should be easy enough to deal with but who knows in this timeline.

        It’s all so stupid. If the Democrats wanted to defeat Trump they should have seized on the fraudulent elector scheme instead of the riot and built that case in courts and public opinion. Trotting out old republicans roped into committing crimes by attesting falsehoods, all because they trusted the crook in the White House and wanted to serve their country. Not only is it true, it’s the way Trump done business all his life so it fits his character.

        Then all the democrats would have needed to do to claim the title of the party of Democracy was to run reasonably clean primaries and…. Oh, I stumbled upon it. Well back to one weird trick to keep your opponent off the ballot.

  7. Verifyfirst

    Epstein–“The interesting question, to me, is how anyone at the elite level — say, anyone with staff — could possibly meet with Epstein without knowing who and what he was.”

    They knew exactly who he was, that was the whole point of dealing with him. Epstein was the “bad kid” enabler in a class full of immature rich kids. He could turn them on to the things they really wanted but didn’t know how to get. He was the high school kid who brought the booze……

    1. Carolinian

      The booze and the underage women? I finally caught up with Sound of Freedom about child trafficking. H’wood supposedly doesn’t like it because of the religious group backing and the claimed (by some) Qanon connection. But the movie is professionally done and the underlying story is appalling if true.

      And it was shelved by Iger when Disney bought Fox a few years back. The filmmakers had to buy it back using crowdfunded donations and it was a big hit last summer and, ironically, made more money than a couple of Disney releases.

      Plus above all–if true–it underscores how utterly trivial studio comic movies and most of the other fare have become by comparison. The studios prefer what social crusading they do to be warm and cozy. This isn’t and is indeed shaped to make a partly political point. I’d say it’s worth a look.

    2. Feral Finster

      I doubt that a Bill Clinton or Les Wexner could not get underaged women if they wished. Some of the others, maybe.

      For that matter, it beggars belief that the alphabet agencies, with their vast information resources and their manifest contempt for privacy and civil liberties, had no idea what Epstein was up to. I mean, *I* knew about Epstein’s extracurricular activities, and I don’t exactly run in those circles.

      Not only that, but if the official story is to be believed, nobody bothered to tell anyone that this Epstein character was bad news? Don’t the Royal Family have people whose job it is to find out about this stuff, to take Prince Andrew aside and caution him that it might not be a good idea to be seen getting too close to Epstein? And Bill Clinton doesn’t have Secret Service protection?

      Of course, nothing seems to have stopped various members of the Royal Family from getting chummy with Jimmy Saville. And apparently Clinton ditched his security to fly on the Lolita Express, which in turn raises a whole host of questions.

      1. NYMutza

        Perhaps Clinton’s security detail was provided some “distractions”, so they could truthfully say they had no idea what Clinton was doing on Epstein’s island.

      1. Tvc15

        Feral Finster said – it beggars belief that the alphabet agencies, with their vast information resources and their manifest contempt for privacy and civil liberties, had no idea what Epstein was up to.

        Labor secretary Acosta under Trump during the transition interviews said “I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,”.

        Nothing to see here…and nothing will change with the release of names associated with Epstein.

  8. t

    In other Covid news, I read through the morning links piece on increased IgG4 antibodies and other vaccine surprises and one of the sourced studies on the BCG vaccine for turburculosis branched off to a hunch/theory that BCG might play a part in the lower than expected Covid rates in Africa. We just have too much medicine! We may never figure it out.

  9. hamstak

    Regarding the poll question about “tough leaders cracking down on those who undermine American values”, while “cracking down” is slightly vague, “American values” is quite vague. Which American values? Imperialism? Neo-colonialism? MIC(IMATT) grift? Mass homelessness? Unusual whales?

  10. Tom Stone

    Anecdata: I was talking to an old friend from Sebastopol ( The Bluest of Blue cities) and he said “Tom you would not believe the number of people who have recently told me that they plan to vote Republican, they all say the same thing “I HATE republicans, but I am NOT going to vote for Biden again”.
    Which is astounding to anyone who knows the town.

  11. JM

    From the limited amount I’ve heard from people I know did take COVID precautions at one point, but have since stopped; I don’t know that a host manipulation narrative is needed. My general take is: they keyed in on worst-case possibilities, their infection was not worst-case (at least in terms of immediate illness), and that combined with the constant pressure to “return to normal” allows them to slough off all risks as overblown/non-existent. Thus they move to going back and doing whatever they did before, with no mitigations.

    It seems clear that there are neurological, and mood, impacts from an infection but I’m skeptical about host manipulation at this point. Unless it’s gotten so pervasive that it accounts for the wholesale abandonment of public health, which I suppose is possible. :/

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Unless it’s gotten so pervasive that it accounts for the wholesale abandonment of public health,

      That’s in fact what worries me, why I look for more powerful accounts.

  12. tegnost

    Starbucks is down to 380 stores, maybe that has something to do with their travails…I was a regular many years ago until they kicked me off their internet with no avenue to even question why, but I always figured NC chapped someones hide. See this from 2018


    “If you don’t allow me unconditional power I just won’t do it anymore”
    Customers…”ok, don’t.”

    1. flora

      Eh, not just Starbucks. Wells Fargo and Bank of America are shuttering branches, too. Applebee’s and IHOP are closing restaurant locations. Walmart is closing stores. Each company has its own financial reasons. The economy is doing great, great I tell ya. Neoliberal economic destruction is moving up the food chain, so to speak. / oy

      1. lyman alpha blob

        Excellent. Perhaps they are finally catching on to the fact that we have a business surplus, not a worker shortage.

        1. NYMutza

          I think you are on to something. i recall reading something from a few years ago that said that the United States has more retail square feet per capita than any other country in the world. Fewer Walmarts and Applebees are an improvement in my view. Fewer strip malls would be great as well.

    2. CA

      “Starbucks is down to 380 stores…”

      I had no idea there was any such difference nor do I know why there should be: Starbucks had opened 6,804 stores in China by October 1, 2023.

      1. NYMutza

        Starbucks is not down to 380 stores. That number references the number of Starbucks locations that were unionized. A tiny fraction of the whole.

        1. CA

          “Starbucks is not down to 380 stores.”

          Thank you, I should have immediately known the number made no sense.

      2. CA

        “Starbucks is down to 380 stores…” This is incorrect.

        There were 16,397 Starbucks stores in the United States as of December 18, 2023. This makes sense of the 6,804 stores in China as of October 1, 2023.

        This reminds me to always check on data.

        1. CA

          There are many aspects of the Starbucks experience to be examined, but what I have noticed with interest about the Chinese experience is the complexity of the technology that is characterizing the growth of Starbucks, from the coffee supply development in Kenya to bakery supply development in China, to delivery logistics, to completely digital retailing with and even without a phone…

  13. caucus99percenter

    Um, Water Cooler titles are showing the wrong year number. Yesterday’s and today’s should say 2024, not 2023.

  14. Jason Boxman

    Based on Walgreens, we’re seeing the most consistent high level of infection for most of the Pandemic, perhaps driven by the wide number of variants circulating. It’s all very strange; today, coworkers were fine. But on my walk I heard two people coughing some. It’s impossible to know what to make of it all.

    Regardless, the recent studies out of the VA demonstrate that an infection by SARS2 is bad, multiple infections are worse, and each infection increases your risk of long-COVID, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes… I’m going to stick with the science and avoid infection as long as possible. By the emergency declaration in 2020, we’re heading up on the beginning of year five in a few months time. Hard to fathom. When it became clear the COVID shots were useless at stopping transmission, and didn’t prevent long-COVID, I knew my participation in the world had ended… for the rest of my life. Gonna be fun. At times I lack motivation to do, anything.

    Stay safe out there!

    1. Acacia

      Yeah, I hear people with bad coughs every time I go out now, especially on the train. I always open the train window for extra ventilation (CO2 levels in trains are high), and have never seen another person do this.

      My anecdotal impression is that a lot of people have lapsed into a kind of magical thinking, e.g., “maybe Long Covid is real, but I’m a responsible person who got my booster, so it won’t happen to me,” or “maybe the epidemic will just inexplicably go away.” There has also been a claim circulating that only a small, select group of people with a certain genetic profile get Long Covid. This has been criticized by AJ Leonardi and others, who argue that everybody is at risk.

      I hear people around me saying they are resigned to getting Covid twice a year going forward, but also that they don’t expect to get Long Covid. If there’s even a 10% chance of LC with each inflection, twice a year for four years brings it to an 80% chance. But I don’t see that they are thinking “80% chance, four years out.”

      This reminds me of something else concerning risk.

      Many years ago, I knew a guy who had worked for an automotive safety division at GM in the early 1960s. His job was to crash cars and study how to make them safer. GM had developed different sorts of safety tech — even exploring things like a tiny jet engine that could inflate an air bag tout de suite —, and the company had figured out a simple, cost-effective solution — seat belts. Gradually, these became standard equipment.

      But with seat belts, the real issue was getting people to wear them. My friend said that he realized at a certain point, that many people were not good at changing their behavior against certain kinds of basic risk, like, “if I’m not wearing a seat belt, I could get impaled by the steering column in a crash, or be catapulted through the windshield.” Instead, they would drive without seatbelts and think, “oh, I’m a careful driver — I won’t get into a crash.”

      This realization was such that my friend ended up quitting his job at GM, and going for a doctorate in Education, to try and understand why so many people were bad at understanding risk.

      1. Jason Boxman

        I thought booster uptake these days was tragically low, which I suppose is expected when one subset of people always thought this was a hoax and the other subset dutifully complied, then were later told increasingly that it’s mild, and just a cold, and endemic, so why bother get a booster shot anyway? Public health is entirely in shambles at this point.

        And it’s interesting to note that, there was no RSV in 2020. I wonder what was different that year? You’d think this would be a huge public health victory to replicate:


    2. Samuel Conner

      RE: motivation, for me, each day that I avoid a life-changing infection is a small victory, not only for me, but for my neighbors in the sense that my avoiding interaction with the medical system by avoiding CV infection reduces the burden on that system and reserves more capacity to help people who have not yet determined to try to protect themselves.

      I also expect to be in this disagreeable place for the rest of my life. And things are likely to become increasingly disagreeable as the capacity of our civilization to carry on functioning is gradually degraded by increasingly pervasive debility.

      We’re making history, and not in a good way. But those of us who are aware of what is happening can resist the flow; maybe we can help a few of the people within our reach.

  15. Acacia

    AJ Leonardi on vaccine efficacy:

    The baseline of comparison for vaccine efficacy IS NO vaccination-see 2nd figure.

    The old vaccines had no efficacy vs hospitalization- see the confidence intervals cross 1.

    They afforded no additional protection versus unvaccination.


    I think(?) he means “the old vaccines have no efficacy” against currently-circulating variants.

    Leonardi himself got Novavax, he says (and posted a photo of the receipt).

    1. MarkT

      Coronaviruses mutate incredibly quickly.

      Aren’t we all happy to live in a world where experiments are done on them?

  16. Jared Pettinato

    “Oddly, the Prospect doesn’t cite the case. Readers?”

    CITIZENS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL INTEGRITY v. THE CENSUS BUREAU, et al., No. 1:21-cv-3045-CJN-JRW-FYP (D.D.C. 2021), appeal filed No. 23-5140 (D.C. Cir. 2023).

  17. The Rev Kev

    ‘The Power To Control
    Why do bomb experts dress up in all this ridiculous safety gear? Grow a pair.’

    Actually one of those guys explained the need for all that safety gear once. He said that if something ever went bang, then that suit would ensure that his body could be buried in one piece for the family.

  18. upstater

    NYT tells us:

    Covid Has Resurged, but Scientists See a Diminished Threat

    Hospitalizations have ticked upward, and there are at least 1,200 Covid deaths each week. Americans should wear masks more often and get vaccinated, experts say.

    Don’t worry, be happy. On a somewhat positive note the cancer center today required masks, but blue baggies predominantly. My brother’s entire family got it at Christmas bc SIL doesn’t mask. Brother compleing Plaxovid SIL on IVM. They are both still pretty sick, with Australia tickets in 2 weeks.

    We got Novavax on Friday. Sore arm for a day. We have travel in March, but always N95s. To our knowledge we’ve avoided it on many international flights and locally. But we’re careful.

  19. The Rev Kev

    ‘The Last Word
    “Terror of our laws”: 14th Amendment expert Professor @davidwblight1
    on the purpose of the post-Civil War amendment that has been used to bar Trump from a second state’s primary ballot.’

    Pretty sure that the French lawyer Maximilien Robespierre also thought along these lines. And this professor would also see no problem with setting up a Reign of Terror, just to protect Our Democracy™ of course. But he and his friends would be immune from it all – until they weren’t.

  20. Benny Profane

    I always assumed that turnover at Starbucks was always high. I mean, at a certain point you get a real job, or climb the ladder. I’m always stunned at how they keep the quality of service so high in that environment. They tapped into something.

    1. NYMutza

      All chain restaurants (this includes coffee shops) have recipes that employees are trained to follow. Deviations from the recipes are not permitted, so it’s fairly easy to train employees. High turnover doesn’t impact product quality because replacements can get up to speed rather quickly. This is why the same item ordered at five different Chipotles tastes the same. And why a mocha latte blah blah blah from Starbucks tastes the same no matter which Starbucks it comes from.

  21. Joe Well

    Sharing this because it is a very well-written description of what a lot of people are going through right now post-Covid and post a lot of things:

    Tom Scocca’s Medical Mystery

    He spent two weeks in a New York hospital after his muscles wasted away so much he couldn’t walk, went through test after test after test, and they found…nothing conclusive.

  22. michael99

    Protests in the California Capitol today for a cease-fire in Gaza.


    Zavala is with KCRA news. See her other posts for more video.

    Report from the LA Times on the protest:


    The protest was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. Organizers said the demonstration included about 400 to 500 people, about half of whom are Jewish.

  23. EarthMagic

    The humble dandelion seed pod, beautiful for its display of the universal Flower of Life pattern.

  24. steppenwolf fetchit

    There was a subthread about the bomb-blast in southeast Iran. I have only a few minutes before going home and I can’t find it but I remember it.

    In my own amateur way, I think the signature of Israeli violent intelligence action inside another country has been the targetted assassination rather than the high-casualty bomb-blast. This bomb blast was supposed to be in southeast Iran. Was it close to or within the part of Baluchistan that lies within Iran’s border?

    I would suggest the possibility that Balochi insurgent violence might be considered as a possible source of this blast. I don’t know, obviously, but perhaps the analytical intelligence-gathering mind might be held open to that possibility.

    Here is a link to “Balochi insurgency in Iran and Pakistan.”

    1. Acacia

      You may be referring to the serious terrorist attack at the burial site of Iran’s Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani:


      Thus far, 103 people dead and 210+ injured. There’s a lot more coverage on X/Twitter.

      Bombs in bags. Fingers pointing at Mossad. Iran talking with the UN.

      Mossad has been implicated in bombings before, such as the car bombings connected to the Hariri assassination.

      If Israel wants to drag the US into an escalating Mid-East conflict, this kind of attack could certainly serve that end.

      1. steppenwolf fetchit

        Yes, that is the serious terrorist attack I was referring to.

        This morning on the news I heard ISIS claimed credit. And just now I see a newpaper report that ISIS claims credit.

        If that report reflects reality on both counts. . . 1: that it really was ISIS claiming credit and 2: that ISIS really diddit, then my guess was half correct. Not Balochis, but also not Israel.

        Whoever did the Hariri bombing did it to kill Hariri, which would be a targeted assassination. This bombing was a general mass-casualty terror bombing not aimed at anyone super-famous in particular. So that’s why I guessed ” not Israel”, and it looks like my guess may be correct. It all depends on if it really was ISIS which diddit. If Iran quietly stops pointing fingers at Israel and if others do likewise, then I will conclude that those were cardboard-replica foam-rubber fingers of convenience to begin with.

        I will wait to see what develops. If nothing more about “Israel” is heard from Iran, then I will be satisfied I got it half right.

  25. Irrational

    Hi Lambert,
    I sent you 3 plantidotes before new contact guidance, so not flagged as “plant”. Can resend if easier.
    Adding to the impressionist write-up the other day: fans of impressionism may be interested to know that Musee d’Orsay in Paris will put on a big exhibition to mark 150 years of impressionism from March to July this year and the exhibition will then travel to Washington D.C. from September ’24 to Jan ’25.

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